He storms in through the back door to the kitchen, slamming his beer can on the countertop. He walks over to the woman sitting at the table, demanding to know where she hid his car keys. She didn’t hide them; he’s just so drunk he can’t remember where he left them. His voice grows louder and louder, and the woman begins to cry. The man hears a noise and notices the small child sitting at a plastic picnic table. He stops yelling and stumbles out the back door without another word. This isn’t a scene from a soap opera. This is a ‘happy’ childhood memory of my dad.
The first time I met my father sober, I was ten years old. My father – who was present at my birth, who watched me take my first steps, who took me to my first day of school – is an alcoholic. I did not know who this man truly was until I was in fifth grade, when my mother gave up and gave him a choice: by Christmas, she would either be happily married, or happily divorced; it was up to him to decide. My father went into rehab the following summer and now plays an active part in my life. I can only imagine how different my life would be if my mother hadn’t given him that second chance.
My mom has taught me one of the most important lessons I’ll ever learn – the beauty of forgiveness. I’m reminded every day of the choice my mother made and the difference it made in my life. As I grow up, I find myself in situations with friends and family members where I have to make that same choice – forgive, or hold a grudge that will end up destroying my relationships with people I love. I am often tempted to retaliate and hurt people the way they hurt me, or use my temper as an excuse to say things to upset someone. But, upon further thought, I have yet to find reason to hold a grudge – when compared to what my mom went through with my dad, all my problems seem minor. I tell myself that if she could find the strength to forgive him, I can find it somewhere in me to resolve arguments with loved ones.
At the moment, I am watching another scene, set in another kitchen. My mother is making cookies at the island countertop. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my dad sneaking in from the living room – he grabs a spoon and walks casually over to the counter. My mom catches him and picks up the bowl, and they spend a couple minutes chasing each other around the kitchen, laughing until my mom gives in and lets him have a spoonful. I am again reminded of the healing power of forgiveness, whether it’s for years of alcoholism or stealing a bite of cookie dough, and resolve myself to try to live this belief every day.
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